US psychologist John Gottman thought we needed a scientific exploration of the art of relationships, so he studied thousands of couples, hooking them up to heart rate monitors and voyeuristically watching them through a two-way mirror. Knowing that their every breath, move and word would be recorded, the couples were asked to forget they were being watched, and do what they would normally do. And they did. The chatted, they ignored each other and they fought, perhaps just like at home. By comparing this data to the couples’ relationship survival rate, Gottman found what both what works and what doesn’t work in relationships.
Gottman concluded there are about 20 per cent of us who innately know how to have a good relationship. These people instinctively know how to communicate, how to support each other and how to resolve conflict. Then, there are around 50 per cent of us who experience relationships ending through divorce and separation, suggesting their relationship skills aren’t as honed. The remaining 30 per cent, according to Gottman, go on to have long, yet often miserable relationships.
The good news is that John Gottman and his wife Julie, based upon their research, developed training and therapy so that people can learn skills and improve, just as we do when we have any skill that doesn’t come naturally.
From his observations, Gottman brought together the elements that he thinks are important for a good relationship into what he called the sound relationship house. There are seven levels to the house and each involves a fundamental need in a relationship.
The first three levels are associated with the bedrock of friendship and have found strong relationships continue the curiosity about each other that we have at the beginning of a relationship. Remember how when you first met, you couldn’t get enough of each other and wanted to know everything about the other person - their thoughts, their lives, their dreams, their beliefs? Then, after a while, we almost all approach each other as if the other person is a book we have already read. We don’t ask many questions anymore.
Gottman suggests the antidote to this is making a decision to update what you know about each other and open ended questions are the best start. How was your day, honey?